Just when it seems that revolutionary communism has all but disappeared in the world, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) rebels grow stronger and stronger.
At present, the Maoists have ordered a number of big businesses in Nepal to shut down following threats of terrorist violence. The rebels have ordered the companies to close indefinitely as part of efforts to pressure the government. On Aug. 15, the Soaltree Crown Plaza Hotel in Kathmandu was forced to close after a bomb attack in which no one was seriously injured. The Maoists’ attacked the hotel after it had earlier refused to close. One week later, Maoist rebels stormed the mountain town of Khalanga, bombing government buildings and reportedly killing a soldier.
In spite of various attempts to quell the uprising, government efforts have all but failed in trying to deal with the growing Maoist insurgency.
The CPN-M was initially formed in 1995; the product of a split in the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN). Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda) and Baburam Bhattari denounced the CPN and other mainstream communist factions as ‘renegades’ and ‘revisionists’ due to their participation in the parliamentary process. On Feb. 13, 1996, Prachanda and Bhattari announced a People’s War in an effort to establish a New Democracy in Nepal.
To date, Prachanda and Bhattarai remain active leaders within the CPN-M command structure. Prachanda is the Party’s chief of operations, and Bhattarai heads the Party’s political wing. There are well over a dozen other top-level commanders within the Party’s structure. Nepalese government reports indicate that there are approximately 10,000 combatants, 15,000 militia, 4,500 cadres, and 200,000 sympathizers actively associated with the CPN-M. They also have an active student wing, comprised of approximately 400,000 members.
The CPN-M insurgency operates to varying degrees in 68 of the 75 districts in Nepal. Among the rebel fighters, about 60 percent are deployed in the mid-western districts, 150 to 200 miles west of Katmandu. Another 10 percent are in the far Western districts, with around 10 percent in the central district of Gurkha. The remaining members of the insurgency are located in and around the Katmandu valley and regions east of it.
The Maoists’ ultimate objective is the elimination of the monarchy and the establishment of a single party Communist state. Prachanda and Bhattari draw inspiration from the radical communist ideologies of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and Peru’s extremist left wing guerilla movement, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The CPN-M is inspired by the success of both movements and firmly believes that they can achieve their cause through force and intimidation. They strive to emulate the Shining Path’s stated objective of destroying government institutions and replacing them with a peasant regime. As with the Shining Path, Nepal’s Maoists ruthlessly deal with political dissent. Human rights groups report that they are guilty of numerous summary executions and cases of torture.
The Maoists argue that what makes them different from other communist parties in the country is that they want a complete revamp of the multiparty democratic system as part of a program aimed at turning the country into a Marxist republic. But on this issue there is some ambiguity, because in the past Maoist negotiators have hinted that they will abandon this demand in order to kick-start negotiations with the Nepalese government. In fact, the only area where they have stayed consistent is in their demand for an end to Nepal’s constitutional monarchy.
In January 2003, the Maoists called for a yearlong truce in order to negotiate with the Nepalese government. This truce proved short-lived. The Maoists unilaterally withdrew from the seven-month cease-fire on Aug. 27, 2003, after the two sides could not agree on the role of the Nepalese monarchy.
Since then, the CPN-M has been responsible for the deaths of an estimated 260 civilians and 305 members of government and nongovernment security forces. They continue to use murder, torture, arson, sabotage, child conscription, kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations to intimidate and coerce the populace.
As part of their program, the Maoists have threatened attacks against U.S.-sponsored nongovernmental organizations and have sought to extort money from Westerners and Nepalese alike to raise funds for their insurgency. Public statements have criticized the United States, the United Kingdom, and India for providing security assistance to Nepal. In 2002, Maoists claimed responsibility for assassinating two Nepalese U.S. Embassy guards and in a press statement, threatened foreign embassy missions to deter foreign support for the Nepalese government.
In May 2004, three major Western donor organizations indefinitely suspended projects in western Nepal due to what they say were threats by the rebels. Their announcement affected more than 50,000 people in some of the poorest areas of the country.
In June 2004, the Maoists claimed responsibility for a bomb in an Indian-run school in Katmandu. The blast occurred during a strike called for by a student-led organization of Maoist rebels. In a separate incident in southern Nepal, 13 soldiers were injured in a landmine explosion carried out by suspected rebels.
To date, CPN-M rebels are at loggerheads with the Nepalese government. They are demanding not to be classified as a terrorist organization, calling for the release of senior leaders in government detention, and the elimination of the monarchy. Given the breakdown of the 2003 peace talks, renewed talks between the government and the rebels are unlikely to occur any time in the near future. The government insists that the rebels must drop their demand that the monarchy be dismantled. The CPN-M has refused to do so. The Maoists insist that a special committee should be drawn up to draft a new constitution for the country, which would offer the option of abolishing the monarchy.
Neither the government nor rebels appear capable of achieving a decisive victory. The Nepalese government is quick to point out that the Royal Nepalese Army is better equipped than the rebels and is receiving increased financial assistance from the United States. However, the rebels are better prepared to fight in the rugged, mountainous terrain. They are also able to rely on popular support in the more remote regions of the country. Given the success of previous strikes and terrorist attacks, the rebels seem capable of paralyzing much of the country. The government has yet to demonstrate an effective strategy for combating the Maoists.
The Maoists claim that the reason they have so much support is because most of their supporters have traditionally been treated as second-class citizens or worse. Many analysts report that this is the real explanation as to why such a seemingly anachronistic movement has made such dramatic headway. There are a substantial number of people in Nepal who see the Maoists as the only genuine alternative to the old, repressive social order. To compound matters, the Nepalese government refuses to take the CPN-M threat as seriously as it should.
As one analyst put it, the government seems to be caught in classic catch-22 situation. Until there is substantial social and economic development in the areas of the countryside where the Maoists hold sway, the insurgency will continue. But development cannot happen until the government gains even limited access to these areas, and access can only be achieved by using highly unpopular and potentially counterproductive military means against a well-organized and locally supported guerilla army.